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Life Beyond Larry: Adjusting to a ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’-Free Era

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ may have concluded its run, but the spirit of Larry David endures—resonating in our minds, if not on our screens

Getty Images/HBO/Ringer illustration

Few television series, except for soap operas, last long enough to warrant an “in memoriam” segment following their series finale. ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ could have easily merited such a tribute. It would have undoubtedly featured Bob Einstein, known for his role as ; Shelley Berman, who portrayed Larry David’s father; Bea Arthur, who portrayed Larry’s mother—albeit briefly due to her character’s departure; and, most notably, Richard Lewis, who navigated Season 12 before confronting his mortality on ‘Curb’.

Larry himself defied mortality—not just in real life, but surprisingly, also on the show. Despite attempts at self-destruction, he managed to cheat death. The character of TV Larry met his demise and resurrection in the Season 5 finale, provocatively titled “The End,” marking David’s initial attempt to wrap up ‘Curb’. Interestingly, this occurred during the same period when ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ debuted, underscoring ‘Curb’s enduring relevance. David contemplated ending the series in Season 11 but ultimately shelved the idea. Even the recent episodes teased Larry’s potential demise, yet this time, the anticipated outcome did not materialize.

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Although ‘Curb’ bid adieu, Larry’s essence lingers on. Nevertheless, the cultural landscape now faces an era devoid of Larry’s active television presence, marking a significant transition. Yet, in a peculiar way, he has already filled the void. Thanks to ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Curb’, we have been immersed in Larry’s psyche for so long that he now resides in our collective consciousness, a notion that might perturb him. There exists a fragment of Larry within each of us, a facet that he normalized and even encouraged us to embrace.

By embodying unfiltered authenticity, David granted societal permission for unbridled self-expression. If the immensely popular and beloved Larry David could eschew banal conversations, exit social gatherings abruptly, and exhibit brutal honesty (albeit intertwined with self-serving fabrications), why couldn’t we? He empowered us to shed societal constraints and ponder the prospect of being our unapologetic selves. As David confessed in 2015, “The character has emboldened me to be much less inhibited and to take on a lot of the things that the TV Larry David does.”

TV Larry transcended the realm of a mere sitcom character to become a quasi-folk hero. HBO’s teaser for ‘Curb’ Season 9 depicted him as a superhero sans cape (despite his stint on ‘Seinfeld’). The poster for that season proclaimed, “The world needs him now more than ever,” next to an image of David’s visage projected akin to a Bat-Signal in the sky. Despite Larry’s initial reluctance in the promo, he answered the call 120 times on Sunday nights, along with numerous appearances on Wednesdays and Thursdays on ‘Seinfeld’. He evolved into a cantankerous chronicler of human idiosyncrasies, a voice for the disgruntled, an individual who articulated our innermost thoughts with unfiltered candor. He emerged as an improbable role model, influencing the behavior of those who have contemplated, in social scenarios, “WWLDD: What would Larry David do?”

If Sunday marked our final opportunity to glean insights directly from the source, Larry left us with some poignant reflections. In the penultimate episode, he remarked, “I don’t want a happy ending—I just want an ending.” For someone of his disposition, a conventional happy ending—excluding the moment when Mark Messier hoisted the Stanley Cup—might seem unattainable or even undesirable. However, he did secure a metaphorical “get out of jail free” card. Amidst the accolades and commendations for “No Lessons Learned,” currently rated as ‘Curb’s’ pinnacle on IMDb—although it was undeniably delightful, let’s not sugarcoat it—David achieved redemption for the controversial ‘Seinfeld’ finale (at least in his perspective).

Larry’s modest desire from the world is a figurative embrace—not one that lingers indefinitely—but symbolically, he is embraced this week. The effusive praise serves as a testament to his legacy: “No Lessons Learned” masterfully weaves together highlights from Larry’s sitcom career without delving into a full-fledged clip show, akin to the ‘Seinfeld’ finale. The episode not only pays homage through numerous ‘Curb’ references but also establishes a recursive connection between “No Lessons Learned” and the ‘Curb’ series premiere, “The Pants Tent,” as well as the trial in the ‘Seinfeld’ finale, which mirrors the ‘Seinfeld’ pilot. Through a blend of fresh comedic elements (such as Cheryl’s plea for privacy regarding her sentiments on Mexican cuisine) and the revival of cherished classics (like the long-forgotten Larry-induced stare-down), the finale bids a poignant farewell to the Larry we relish watching others despise.

If we regard George Costanza as an extension of David, it has been 35 years since America was introduced to his on-screen persona—a period substantial enough that millennials like myself cannot recollect a time B.C. (Before Costanza) while contemplating an era A.D. (After David). (For younger millennials, the concept of B.C.E.—Before Curb Enthusiasm—might be equally incomprehensible.) Regardless of the era in which our comedic sensibilities evolved, would I have resonated with David irrespective of temporal influences, or do I harbor a fondness for Larry owing to exposure to his humor during my formative years in the ‘90s (particularly in New York)? When my peers and I engage in dialogues akin to those between Jerry, George, and Elaine—or Larry, Leon, and Jeff—are we subconsciously emulating these characters? The interplay of causality remains enigmatic, confounding those younger than myself, as ‘Seinfeld’ imprinted Larry’s mark on all subsequent comedy endeavors.

One certainty prevails: Analogous to Larry, numerous viewers nurtured on ‘Curb’ have assimilated Larry-esque mannerisms. While I refrain from , there are instances when I catch myself cynically muttering during prolonged conversations, or echoing Larry’s trademark phrases like “Eh,” “OK,” “No good?,” or “I don’t think so.” (Can’t you hear his voice now?)

Given this rich history, it is impossible not to ponder whether the half-smiling exchange between Larry and Jerry in the ‘Seinfeld’-esque jail-cell scene on Sunday marked the final instance of their linguistic banter on-screen. The profound cultural impact of this call-and-response dynamic is evident in how it evoked not a ‘Seinfeld’ scene but a ‘Family Guy’ parody of ‘Seinfeld’—a series that commemorates its 20th anniversary this year. ‘Seinfeld’s’ enduring legacy is such that it appears as though mundane minutiae and societal quirks were not scrutinized or parodied until Larry’s advent.

David’s influence remains as potent as ever. Reflecting on moments like his cameo on ‘Entourage’ or ‘Hannah Montana,’ Bob Odenkirk’s impersonation of him on ‘The Office,’ the numerous parodies, or his evolution as a , it is evident that ‘Curb’ transcended its predecessor series in various aspects. Watching ‘Seinfeld’ today feels like a stepping stone towards ‘Curb’, hinting that beneath the veneer of network-friendly dialogue, artificial laugh tracks, multi-camera setups, and conventional sitcom settings, ‘Seinfeld’ aspired to metamorphose into ‘Curb’ once its co-creator assumed a prominent on-screen role beyond ordering a or scrutinizing beachgoers.

David revolutionized the medium not only by transforming a into a cultural juggernaut but also by circumventing traditional TV norms. Unfettered by the constraints of conventional renewal procedures and stringent production schedules, Larry possessed the liberty to create more ‘Curb’ episodes at his discretion. HBO eagerly welcomed any opportunity to collaborate with Larry, a sentiment echoed by audiences.

In transcending the boundaries of societal norms and industry standards, David emerged as more than a sitcom creator or character. His real-life persona seamlessly intertwined with his on-screen portrayal, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. While his sitcom and personal identities may not align entirely (especially concerning family dynamics), his role extended beyond eliciting laughter to serving as a moral compass. He assumed the roles of humorist, amateur ethicist, and—above all—a referee, offering insights into human conduct. Though fallible, he renders judgment unapologetically, notwithstanding the occasional fouls he incurs. Despite Kaley Cuoco’s character’s comparison to Mr. Magoo in Season 11, Larry is far from oblivious.

Regarding his appearance, David may appear timeless, yet his supposed defiance of aging is somewhat exaggerated—an inevitable consequence of sporting glasses and a bald pate. His comedy retains its relevance, with ‘Seinfeld’ enduring the test of time save for superficial aspects. Despite some fluctuations in quality, ‘Curb’ remained consistent in tone, even as it navigated societal shifts over the years. While the most recent seasons may not have matched the pinnacle of ‘Curb’, the series’ enduring legacy remains intact. Larry astutely dissected social dynamics since the era of beepers, answering machines, and call waiting. When society grapples with dilemmas, Larry offers his unique perspective. He has evolved into a cultural arbiter, whether critiquing , engaging Alan Dershowitz, or opining on ‘The Rewatchables’ programming strategy.

This encapsulates David’s past endeavors. As for the future, uncertainty looms. Will Larry, at 76, retire from the limelight, or will he resurface in a new creative endeavor? Given his intrinsic nature, a complete retreat seems unlikely; Larry’s bemusement with humanity endures, as noted by ‘Curb’ executive producer Jeff Schaffer in an interview with ‘Deadline’, “That stuff’s gotta go somewhere.” David may portray a misanthrope, but even TV Larry maintains a tenuous connection with humanity. Despite his financial independence that shields him from insincere pleasantries, he opts for candid interactions. In the episode “The Dream Scheme” from Season 12, he embarks on convoluted schemes to evade onerous favors, eschewing a simple refusal. Paradoxically, he remains tethered to societal conventions even as he bemoans them. Despite his acerbic exterior, he harbors a since Season 6, demonstrating a capacity for empathy when necessary. He seeks connection on his terms—not necessarily emotional but certainly authentic. Hence, even with his affluence, he remains the recipient of rather than the purveyor of pleasantries.

In a way, it is almost disheartening that the off-screen Larry seems detached from sentimentality. However, even the real Larry has his boundaries: despite our fondness, the sentiment is unlikely reciprocated. Larry’s gesture in the episode “No Lessons Learned,” where he forms a hand heart, akin to a jumbotron display at Madison Square Garden, delineates the boundaries of engagement: professionalism prevails.

Following the series finale, HBO released behind-the-scenes footage capturing the emotional farewells exchanged among the cast and crew of ‘Curb’. Colleagues pay tribute to the show and their collaborators in a touching manner, with Lewis lauding David as “arguably the greatest sitcom writer in the last two centuries,” a statement that might have ruffled Larry’s feathers. True to form, Larry appears eager to exit the set, declining to deliver a speech despite the crew’s prompt. His reluctance to indulge in sentimentality is emblematic of his pragmatic disposition.

Perhaps there is a sense of finality in the air. However, this does not diminish his enlightening impact. Larry’s teachings have equipped us for a world ‘after’ Larry. While he may take pride in learning ‘no lessons,’ we have gleaned invaluable insights from his unorthodox wisdom.